Culturally shared false memories, a smart and stretchy computing chip, and a smell test for dementia.
Quick! Does Mr. Monopoly wear a monocle? If you said yes, you’ve just experienced the visual form of the Mandela Effect: the phenomenon of widespread, specific, and consistent false memories about popular cultural icons. Coined in 2009, the term Mandela Effect describes the prevalent mistaken belief that Nelson Mandela died in prison around 1990. For an October 11 paper in Psychological Science, neuroscientist Wilma Bainbridge and her lab manager and research assistant Deepasri Prasad sought to confirm and learn about the visual form of the effect—the VME—by testing one group’s ability to choose the original representation of commonly misremembered icons and another group’s ability to draw them from memory. The team also wondered whether misremembered details are simply overlooked—do viewers just skip over Mr. Monopoly’s face?—so they analyzed how a third group paid attention to images using a technique similar to eye tracking. The team concluded that the VME does exist but can’t be explained by any single cause—raising new questions about how false memories form.
Materials scientist Sihong Wang envisions a future where people wear electronic devices that continuously monitor their health, not only by collecting data, but also by analyzing the complex information to identify patterns or issue warnings in real time. Such technology could detect diseases before symptoms even appear. Advanced biosensors and machine-based learning promise this future, but seamlessly integrating both into one device remains a challenge. In a Matter paper published online August 4, Wang’s team describes a computing chip that comes one step closer. It’s stretchy like skin and processes information like a human brain, capable of storing and analyzing large amounts of data using far less power than a conventional computer—a brainy Band-Aid of sorts. Processing data where it’s collected (rather than wirelessly transmitting it to an external device) also offers more security and speed. An integrated device could permit long-term health surveillance outside of a clinic or hospital and may one day be able to automatically adjust medication.
Scent and memory are closely linked, and signs of Alzheimer’s disease often appear in olfactory and memory-related areas before other parts of the brain. UChicago surgeon and ear, nose, and throat specialist Jayant M. Pinto wondered if changes to a person’s ability to smell over time might predict dementia. For an Alzheimer’s & Dementia paper published online July 28, Pinto’s team analyzed data from a longitudinal study of older adults, identifying participants who had undergone yearly assessments for sense of smell, cognitive function, and signs of dementia. The researchers found that a rapid loss of smell for people with normal cognitive function predicted a higher risk of dementia and, in patients who had received brain MRIs, lower gray matter volume in the brain areas related to smell and memory. This research could lead to a simple and accessible smell test to help detect and treat dementia early.